St. Pete Marine on four-year quest to reunite with bomb-sniffing dog

Nathan Naumann and Jazzy take a break in Afghanistan. “She made me look good. She was fantastic from the get-go.”
Nathan Naumann and Jazzy take a break in Afghanistan. “She made me look good. She was fantastic from the get-go.”
Published Feb. 1, 2017

This is a story about a Marine and his dog. About the horrors of war and the companionship between man and beast. And about an ongoing effort to reunite two veterans — one with two legs, the other with four.

"Nathan and Jazzy formed a powerful bond while serving together in a war zone," said U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who is working to reunite them. "Five years after their first deployment to Afghanistan, it will be a comfort to them both to be reunited."

First, however, Jazzy's current handler has to agree to give up the dog once she is retired.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

• • •

Nathan Naumann grew up in St. Petersburg, graduated from Boca Ciega High School in 2002 and joined the Marines in 2010.

A year later, Naumann, 32 and now a Pinellas Park police officer, found himself at the Marines' Twentynine Palms base in the scrub country of Southern California. He was part of the 2/4 Marines, a battalion that first fought in World War I and is known by its nickname, the Magnificent Bastards.

The mission?

Help Marines neutralize improvised explosive devices, the scourge that killed thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and wounded tens of thousands more.

Naumann was an IED detection-dog handler. He was sent to Twentynine Palms to get acquainted with his animal, who had been trained by K2 Solutions — a Southern Pines, N.C., company that provides service dogs to the military and law enforcement.

To get the most out of the pairing, the Marines matched the dogs with handlers based on personality traits, Naumann said.

Jazzy was a 2-year-old, female black Labrador.

"She was very calm, very reserved. A very sweet dog."

As one of the older guys in the unit, Naumann said, he, too, was considered calm and reserved.

"Based on my demeanor, they matched me with her."

The two developed chemistry.

"We won the award of top dog-handling team. She made me look good. She was fantastic from the get-go."

• • •

In 2011, Naumann and Jazzy shipped off to Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, a restive corner of a country accustomed to bloodshed.

"We were the first battalion to integrate IED detection dogs with infantry squads," Naumann said. The move gave small units of Marines on patrol a specially trained team that could help spot IEDs before they exploded.

Naumann and Jazzy would accompany the Marines into the field, walking ahead of their unit. During their time in Afghanistan, they were busy.

"Three patrols a day."

Because they were so closely meshed, Naumann could tell instantly if Jazzy had spotted something, even before the dog would lie down — the sign that she had sniffed out explosives.

About a month into the deployment, tragedy struck.

Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Dunning, an explosives ordnance detection tech, was working on a bomb discovered during a patrol.

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"I asked him if he wanted me to send Jazzy out, but he said no," Naumann recalled. "He said it was a known bomb, and no need to."

The bomb blew up, killing Dunning. It was Oct. 27, 2011.

"That was the roughest day," Naumann said.

Amid the rigors of war, he and Jazzy formed a tight bond, with the dog helping the man cope.

"She was with me every day for almost a year."

• • •

In March 2012, when the pair returned to the States, K2 Solutions showed up with a truck and took Jazzy away.

That was the last Naumann has seen of her.

"I was always told that since I was the first handler, I would have first right of adoption," Naumann said.

He filled out forms with K2 to take possession of the dog someday.

Later that year, he deployed again, this time to Asia. Jazzy went back to Afghanistan with another handler.

Naumann left the Marines in 2014 and joined the Pinellas Park police last year. He misses Jazzy.

"I want to give her a good home," he said.

In 2014, Jazzy left the Marines and began working for the Transportation Security Administration as a police dog with the Delaware River and Bay Authority in Pennsylvania. She has been there ever since, with a new handler.

• • •

All the while, Naumann and his wife, Lynnze, have tried to secure Jazzy's eventual adoption, first through the Marines then with TSA. They researched her whereabouts and fired off emails.

Former U.S. Rep. David Jolly took up the cause. So did Beverly Young, widow of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who reached out to her military contacts. This week, after his office was contacted by the Tampa Bay Times, Crist, the St. Petersburg Democrat, sent a letter to the TSA, asking that Naumann and Jazzy eventually be reunited.

"I understand that Jazzy may be nearing the end of her service with TSA and strongly request that Mr. Naumann be given the first opportunity to adopt her immediately following retirement," Crist wrote.

It won't be easy.

Under TSA rules, the current handler has first dibs. And it might still be some time before Jazzy is ready to retire. While the average service life of a dog like Jazzy is eight years, it can be much longer depending on the animal's abilities, said Paul Bunker, director of K2 Solutions.

Jazzy is 8, still doing top-notch work.

"As bad as I want her, I am happy she is doing okay," Naumann said. He hopes to visit Jazzy and her new handler — not an unusual request, according to the TSA.

Whether that happens, and whether Naumann can adopt Jazzy, remains to be seen. A TSA spokesman could not provide the answer.

So Naumann waits.

"I know she is healthy and doing great. She has always been great at what she does, but I still want to give her a home here. I still consider her part of the family."

Contact Howard Altman at or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.